As Peace News went to press, campaigners were making a last ditch attempt at halting the planning process for AWE Aldermaston's controversial Orion laser facility. Janet Kilburn reports...
At a meeting on 25 January, a small group of local councillors is expected to rubber stamp the plan - despite hundreds of objections and a growing call for a public inquiry. Campaigners, locals, parliamentarians - and even another nearby local authority - have been lobbying both local and national government over the issue; and opponents of the scheme are reportedly consulting their lawyers on the next move to stop what they consider to be an illegal project.
As PN went to press, a West Berkshire Planning Committee was meeting, for a second time, to consider the Orion Notice of Proposed Development (NoPD), after they voted on 23 November 2005 to defer their decision when the Ministry of Defence failed to provide them with environmental information relating to the development (PN 2468-9).
A mammoth project
The proposed building would house a sophisticated laser system which would be used to carry out complex nuclear materials testing - something which campaigners believe would enable the development of new or upgraded nuclear warheads and break the spirit of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
While Orion itself is a big project (at least a five-year build), it is just one part of a much bigger plan for Britain's Atomic Weapons Establishments. The whole project, according to Aldermaston's Bob Irvin, quoted in December's edition of AWE's in-house newspaper AWE Today, “will make AWE one of the largest construction sites in the UK - similar in scale to the Terminal 5 project at Heathrow”.
Public inquiry - now!
Local and national campaigners have been joined by Dr Caroline Lucas MEP, in urging local councillors not to pass the NoPDs without objection, but instead to refer them back to the Secretary of State, and ask him to open a public inquiry. A spokeswoman for Aldermaston Women's Peace Campaign commented, “Heathrow - and other developments of this scale - are subject to a public inquiry, so why not AWE?”
In a press statement at the end of January, Dr Lucas said she was determined to halt work at Aldermaston by any lawful means and that, if her plea to John Prescott and local planners fell on deaf ears, she has pledged to “block the builders” - by lying down in front of them, if necessary: “I have been arrested before for obstructing nuclear weapons - and I'm not afraid of being arrested again, blocking the builders at Aldermaston if need be. The real crime is the proliferation of nuclear weapons of mass destruction.”
The Green MEP will not be alone in her resistance, as nonviolent direct action group Block the Builders have already promised that, if the planning meeting on 25 January rubber stamps the Orion NoPD, they will begin a series of blockades at the Aldermaston site in an attempt to disrupt any building work.
The first blockade is scheduled to take place on Monday 30 January if AWE get the go-ahead - and more bodies for the blockade are urgently needed.